onregelmatig werken

Almost 2 out of 10 people in the Netherlands work during the nights. For instance because they work in the hospitality, medical, or logistics sector. And even though shiftwork is commonplace, it does bring a number of health risks. Biologically speaking humans like order. Every human has a biological clock which determines their daily rhythm. There are some individual differences in rhythm (you probably know some morning persons). But in the absence of professional or social influence everyone eventually gravitates to their natural rhythm.

Changing your rhythm

As a human you are able to change your rhythm, although this takes time. When you work in shifts you do not get sufficient time for this. By the time you have properly adjusted to one shift you usually move to a different one. Therefore, the best solution is usually to stay somewhere in the middle. Deal with fluctuations by getting a sufficient amount of rest and making some changes in your diet and lifestyle where applicable.

Complaints specific to shiftwork

The most frequently heard complaint when working in shifts is fatigue; disturbances in your biological clock affect your energy levels throughout the day. This increases the chance of mistakes because you are less alert, which can be very dangerous depending on your line of work. In the long run, working in shifts also increases the risk on cardiovascular diseases, as well as gastrointestinal complaints. Furthermore, there is a relationship between chronic fatigue and a number of psychological complaints, which means that disorders such as depression are more frequent among shiftworkers.

The perfect solution…

…unfortunately does not exist. One way or another, working in shifts disturbs your natural balance. Minimizing risks is often the best solution in this case, for instance by applying the right coping strategies. A healthy lifestyle is an important part of this. Food that is rich in protein can give you enough energy to work through the night, and frequent physical exercise keeps you in shape and makes it easier to sleep at night. It is also important to ensure a good social life; it can be easy to lose sight of this when most of your peers have a ‘regular’ rhythm, but this can also lead to loneliness and psychological complaints.

What can I do?

Perhaps the most difficult part of working in shifts is that the rest of the world is designed for those that work a regular 9-to-5 job. At night the streets are quiet and the stores are closed. While during the day you are kept awake by the hustle and bustle outside, and your friends are out and about. This doesn’t always make it easy to sleep at times when you really want to. Or to make healthy choices when it comes to nutrition or exercise. Luckily there are also things you can do to make it easier on yourself. For instance, ensuring that your bedroom is dark and quiet helps you sleep better at any time of the day. If you find it difficult to ensure this, a sleep mask or earplugs can go a long way. If you frequently find yourself hungry when the supermarket is already closed, then make sure you have sufficient healthy choices on hand by buying groceries in advance to prevent yourself reaching for that unhealthy snack. Finally, use the extra days off that you get for working in shifts. Plan fun activities with friends and family, or to get some well-earned rest.

In a nutshell

  • Ensure your sleeping environment is dark and quiet;
  • Buy healthy groceries ahead of time;
  • Pay attention to your social life;
  • Get sufficient rest when you can.

Day shift or night shift, always make sure you are well rested! How do you deal with irregular hours? 

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Jan Kraaijeveld

Hi, I'm Jan, a blogger and a business analyst at Sense Health. In my spare time I like gaming, cooking, reading and traveling. I also like to write about stuff I find remarkable or interesting. I have a background in business economics.

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